World Cup Soccer
 
              === Dutch star Sneijder proves he's good enough ===
 
 By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wesley Sneijder wasn't good enough. That's
 the way Real Madrid felt less than a year ago. Sneijder is one the world's top
 players, but he is no Kaka. The Brazilian would replace the Dutchman, and Real
 would return to European glory.
 
 Real had it all mapped out, and Kaka - a FIFA World Player of the Year - would
 obviously be a much better fit in midfield. Kaka would be the general. And new
 teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, the most expensive part of the nearly $400 million
 Madrid makeover, would provide the artillery.
 
 Sneijder was dumped. Offered at a bargain price of $19 million (yes, that's a
 lot of money, but put it into context with Ronaldo's $132 million transfer and
 Kaka's $86 million price tag). Sneijder quickly found a new home in Italy with
 Inter Milan.
 
 Of course, Sneijder wanted to remain in Madrid. Every good player has no
 doubts they can play a key role on a team. Even a team with Kaka, who plays
 the exact same position as you. Sneijder left disappointed, but determined to
 return for an encore performance.
 
 No, Sneijder never wanted to pull on a Madrid jersey again. He just wanted one
 last chance to play in the storied Bernabeu. The Champions League final was to
 be played there at the end of the club season. It was a long shot for sure.
 
 Nine months after he was sent packing, Sneijder returned to Madrid. He had two
 trophies already, the Coppa Italia and Italian Serie A crowns. He departed the
 stadium that May evening with a third, the Champions League title that Real
 coveted when it cast him off. Funny, considering Sneijder wasn't good enough
 for Real.
 
 He was Inter Milan. Sneijder was the hamster that spun Inter's wheel. He added
 a dynamic in midfield the Italians needed to end a 45-year drought in Europe's
 top club event. There are arguments coach Jose Mourinho provided the influence
 to change Inter's fortunes, but it wouldn't have happened without Sneijder.
 
 Sneijder didn't provide gaudy numbers. Eight goals and 12 assists in 39 games
 - that's it. Inter defender Maicon nearly equaled those numbers (seven goals
 and 12 assists). Ronaldo scored 26 goals in just 28 La Liga games. Barcelona's
 Lio Messi had 45 goals. Manchester United's Wayne Rooney scored 34 in the
 English Premier League.
 
 The Dutchman provided the intangibles. The leadership. The hustle. The ability
 as a star to jell with his team. The willingness to set up others, without too
 much concern for his own stats.
 
 Ronaldo, along with Messi and Rooney, were watching the Champions League final
 - Sneijder was playing in it. Which brings us full circle, more than 10 months
 after his departure from Madrid, to the FIFA World Cup.
 
 Sneijder, again, is the only one still playing. This time for The Netherlands.
 This time in the final. Remember, he wasn't good enough for Real. The Dutchman
 has been the most important player for his team in South Africa. And with much
 more freedom in his Oranje jersey, has five goals.
 
 Sneijder scored twice in the quarterfinals, a 2-1 win over Brazil. It was only
 fitting the goals were against Kaka's Brazil, which lost a match for the first
 time in World Cup history when leading at halftime.
 
 The Dutch playmaker scored again in the semifinals Tuesday, leading The
 Netherlands to a 3-2 win over Uruguay and into the title match for the first
 time since 1978. Sure, Sneijder was a bit lucky on two of his goals, as the
 ball found the back of the net after deflections against Brazil and Uruguay.
 
 Sneijder's best luck came last August, when Real Madrid thought he wasn't good
 enough. It lit a fire under him, and he's proven them wrong ever since. Madrid
 covets world players of the year (Ronaldo has also won the accolade). However,
 sometimes even the best player in the world gets overlooked.
 
 FIFA recently combined the sport's two biggest trophies, the FIFA World Player
 of the Year and the Ballon d'Or, and there is just one player in the world who
 deserves the new FIFA Ballon d'Or when it is given out in January. Whether The
 Netherlands win or lose, the World Cup final Sunday.
 
 You won't find him in Madrid.
 
 
 07/07 14:44:30 ET

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